Wednesday's win by the Atlanta Hawks over the Orlando Magic wasn't what you would call a masterpiece performance, but there were plenty of positives to take away and build on. The Hawks needed that after dropping a season-high three-straight games while seeing their defensive effort evaporate.
The start to Wednesday's game was less than encouraging. The Hawks offered little resistance defensively and the Magic responded by scoring 31 points on 60 percent shooting. The deficit grew to as many as 13 points in the second quarter before Atlanta started to chip away behind the strong play of Paul Millsap who scored 18 of his team-high 25 points in the first half.
Take a look at Atlanta's 38 percent shooting in the first half and you are reminded how their defense effects their offense. Orlando turned the ball over just five times in the first 24 minutes and were very comfortable with their execution. Here is a look at the shot chart in the first half. Notice the attempts and the production from the paint.
Fortunately for the Hawks, that started to change in the third quarter. Atlanta forced five turnovers in the third alone and the play of Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore late in the period seemed to give Atlanta some life. The Hawks tied the game with a Schröder three at the start of the fourth and then watched the Magic answer with a 7-0 run to take a 78-71 lead.
From that point on however, it was all Atlanta. The Hawks forced seven more turnovers in the fourth quarter. They jumped into the passing lanes and ratcheted up the pressure on the perimeter. After leading 78-71, the Magic would make just two more field goals and would finish the quarter 4-16 from the field. Atlanta's offense caught fire as the Hawks converted 5-10 three-point attempts in the quarter. Those five makes equaled their total from the first three quarters.
Orlando finished the game with 40 points in the paint but 26 of those came in the first half. Here is a look at their second half shot chart.
Atlanta's defense stiffened considerably in the second half and the Hawks forced 12 turnovers which jumpstarted their offense. We talk a lot about the need for Atlanta to be on the attack offensively but the same holds true for their defense. The Hawks have been back on their heals for a while and that usually leads to easy shots for the opponents or foul calls which there have been a lot of lately. Its very important for this Atlanta team to set the tone and the tempo on the defensive end of the floor. When they do, everything takes care of itself on the offensive end. They are not all the way back yet but this second half performance gives them something to build on heading into Friday's game.
Thabo Sefolosha returns from 23 game absence
Thabo Sefolosha went scoreless in just over seven minutes on Wednesday. He was hardly a factor in the game but for the Hawks it was great just seeing him back out there after missing 23 games with a calf injury. Sefolosha missed his only shot attempt but was credited with a steal. He played under a 15 minute restriction on Wednesday but expect Mike Budenholzer to continue to stretch him out over the final part of the regular season.
Jeff Teague shakes off ankle injury, looks like Jeff Teague again
While its not fair to pin Atlanta's up and down play of late on any one player, Wednesday's game again illustrates the importance of Jeff Teague to the Hawks. Atlanta received a scare when Teague rolled his ankle in the first quarter and headed into the locker room. He returned in the second quarter and once again played the part of the team's closer coming down the stretch.
Teague finished with 16 points and nine assists on 7-12 shooting. Nine of those points and five of the assists came in the fourth quarter. His three-pointer with 1:55 remaining slammed the door the shut on the Magic.
Dennis Schröder has been a wonderful part of this season's story. He may very well be Atlanta's point guard of the future but Teague is the point guard of the present and the Hawks need him to get back to playing at an All-Star level.
Magic Number down to two
The win reduces Atlanta's magic number to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to two. The Hawks are back at home on Friday where they will host the Miami Heat. They travel to Charlotte on Saturday to take on the Hornets. The Cleveland Cavaliers will travel to Brooklyn on Friday and will host Philadelphia on Sunday.